Gamers Relying More On Advertising Than Inherent Quality?
Back when gaming couldn't be considered mainstream, and the majority of those who indulged in the hobby would commonly be labeled as "hardcore," advertising and brand recognition didn't drive sales as heavily as they do now. But with the massive influx of casual gamers, who rarely read reviews and simply base their decisions on what "looks fun," things have changed drastically.
We've always taken Sony to task for not advertising enough, and we can point to the recent launch of Killzone 2 as more evidence. Sure, they had a fairly impressive marketing campaign for the blockbuster, but the bottom line is that Halo Wars was far more visible. KZ2 has sold very well, of course, but perhaps it hasn't sold as many copies as better-advertised titles in the past like Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Now, we see the sales explosion of Resident Evil 5, which also features a heavy advertising campaign that includes Internet, TV and print publications. This is all well and good - any major industry requires the advertising of its products - but have we reached a point where ads and name recognition matter more than the quality of the game itself...? Sure, all the aforementioned titles are great and even groundbreaking, but what if they weren't so amazing, and still had the same marketing campaigns? Would the sales numbers have been drastically different?
We're hoping consumers aren't starting to rely more on ads than reviews, but it's a possibility we're going to have to consider. These days, the most popular movies never get Academy Award nominations (it didn't always used to be this way, but evidently, the movie-viewing public has grown increasingly dumber); the big ticket sales go to the brainless action extravaganzas and insulting comedies. Why? They're advertised to the gills in the vicious circle of ads versus popularity: if people keep wanting to see stupid movies, those are the ones they're going to make, and the ones they're going to advertise. How far away are we from seeing this phenomenon in video games? Right now, many of the best selling games of the year win all the annual awards (look at this year's AIAS list of nominees and victors), but how long will it last? We have this sneaking suspicion that with the casual gamers vastly outnumbering the hardcore these days, reviews will matter less and ads/name recognition will matter more.
Unfortunately, it may be inevitable. Prepare yourselves.
3/18/2009 Ben Dutka